This course explores the cultural, social, and political relationships between humans and other animals. Drawing from cross-cultural anthropological work, starting from histories of domestication, we will consider the participation of animals in different contemporary societies: as spirits, workers, food, commodities, symbols, domestic pets, unwanted pests, wildlife, friendly companions, and scientific objects. In general, we will interrogate the varied ways in which animals have been, and continue to be, central to human societies and cultures, as well as the role of humans in non-human animals’ lives. This will allow us to address pressing questions about animal agency, rights, and representation.
We will bring these cross-cultural explorations home to explore, as observers, participants, researchers and writers, the social and cultural lives of animals around us — from art museums to pet shelters and organic farms. Through in-class activities and collaborative work in the college, students will acquire critical ethnographic observation skills. They will then use them to explore a site of human-animal livelihood outside the campus, through a local day-long fieldtrip. In doing so, we will expand our broader understandings of what it means to be human, by including our non-human companions in our social, political, and cultural analysis.